News & Events

See All News and Events

Hip preservation surgery has Coach Petesch running better than ever

For more than two decades, Nathan Petesch has put on a staggering amount of mileage — not only on his cars but his body. The Orthopedic Surgery team at UW Health couldn’t do much to reverse the mileage on Nathan’s vehicles, but they did a masterful job restoring his left hip.

Before landing his current position as assistant men’s and women’s track/cross country coach at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, Nathan coached runners at a half dozen colleges around the country. Part of coaching duties include plenty of running himself, usually as the “pacer” who leads the pack of student athletes at a certain speed that varies according to the distance of the race for which the team is preparing.

After years of running 70 to 90 miles a week, however, Nathan’s hip started to show its wear and tear not long after he turned 33.

“The pain started in the spring of 2021 and I just kept running through it for a while,” he says. “Unfortunately, my hip just kept getting worse as the year went along. By late fall, I was pretty hampered and missing a few days of training.”

A sports medicine doctor in La Crosse diagnosed Nathan with a tear in his left labrum, which is the cartilage that lines the hip socket. Soon, Nathan found his way to the UW Health Sports Medicine Clinic, where he met with Dr. Andrea Spiker, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in hip preservation surgery.

“Nathan described increasing hip pain as well as loss of range and motion,” says Dr. Spiker. “He also was hearing snaps and pops as he moved around. When we looked at his imaging, we found that in addition to the labrum tear, Nathan was experiencing hip impingement, which occurs when the ball at the top of the femur, or thigh bone, is not as round as it should be. This prevents the hip joint from moving smoothly and was the trigger for his symptoms. He tried physical therapy and anti-inflammatories, but things did not improve over several months.”

Knowing that a well-functioning hip was essential not only for running but a better quality of life, Nathan realized that surgery would be necessary to achieve his goals.

“It was a little scary facing surgery at 33 thinking that my quality of life could be severely impacted, given what I do for a living,” Nathan says. “When I met with Dr. Spiker, I felt very comfortable and confident that I would be in good hands. Her experience and positive patient reviews only enhanced my comfort level.”

Quite the finish to Nathan’s day of surgery

As the big day approached, surgery was not the only thing on Nathan’s mind.

“Our men’s team had a track and field meet in La Crosse that evening, and I was thinking about one of our athletes who was racing to qualify for the NCAA Championships. I felt bad that my surgery was the same day.”

The operation itself could not have gone more smoothly.

“I performed a hip arthroscopy, which is a minimally invasive outpatient surgery to restore a more normal shape to the bone, repair the torn labrum and restore smooth function to the joint,” says Dr. Spiker. “It not only allows the patient to enjoy a pain-free lifestyle and return to high levels of activity,” she adds, “We also believe that improving the mechanics of the hip will prevent future hip arthritis.”

Nathan was out of surgery late that afternoon. It wasn’t long before his girlfriend pulled the car up to the front of the hospital and the two were heading back to La Crosse.

After a round trip from La Crosse to Madison with a hip surgery thrown in for good measure, most people would call it a day and hop straight into bed. Nathan, however, couldn’t help himself. He showed up at the track that evening to see his runner compete in the 10,000 meters.

“He not only won the race but broke the school’s 42-year-old record and has since won three national titles. There are only so many moments of magic in an athlete’s career and I was grateful to be there for one.”

After finally making it home, Nathan took it easy for a few days. He began weaning himself off crutches after a few weeks. Home exercises assigned by his physical therapist allowed Nathan to start building up his strength and range of motion. 

Within three months after surgery, he started light running. By late fall, he was feeling 100 percent with no pain and no restrictions. For the past year or so, he is back to a weekly pace of 70 to 90 miles, which is at least as far as he was running before the surgery.

“I have nothing but positive things to say about the whole experience,” Nathan says. “We’re lucky to have some of the best medical professionals here in the state. I would certainly recommend the UW Health team to anyone who is dealing with injuries that have hampered their ability to stay active.”



This story originally appeared on